A number of years ago, a film called ‘Muthal Naal Indru’ announced itself when it was selected as a finalist at the BMW Shorties. At a number of screenings throughout Malaysia, it was well-received and was oft-discussed primarily because of the subject matter and its execution. Today we sit down (so to speak) with Karthik Shamalan, the film’s director, to talk about ‘Muthal Naal Indru’, his filmmaking journey thus far, and why he’s making films titled after his name…even though the story is not about him…
Hi Karthik! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Basically, I love films. I am an accounting lecturer turned filmmaker. I do commercials, music videos, photography, cinematography, dialogue writing and of course, movies.
What was the starting point for all this? Was there a particular filmmaker who inspired you?
When I was 13 years old, I met the director K. Balachander. He is a man who has made many hit Tamil films. He inspired me. I still remember sitting beside his monitor and watching him directing the song portion of a movie.
That’s pretty cool! In the course of my research, I found out you also like M. Night Shyamalan and Maniratnam. What do you like about these directors?
Well, I love their storytelling. I like how they narrate the movie and pack it into a film. I especially like Maniratnam, because his screenplay was always well executed and portrayed by the artist.
I also found out that you first started acting on stage at the age of 8. Do you remember anything about that experience at all?
Oh yes! How can I forget that? I acted as Baarathiyar, the famous poet. Later I got the chance to act as Nakkeeran. You know, the best part of stage acting is to make sure you don’t spoil the whole show by forgetting your lines or crossing the lines of others!
All these filmmakers provided the motivation for your own career. When did you start to make films?
Well, I started doing short films in 2006. I tried approaching some Tamil film directors for chances to work as an assistant, but unfortunately they were very busy with their work. I must thank BMW Shorties for raising the veil and helping many others to know of my talent. I used to read online notes and books to learn about filmmaking. It took almost six years but it was worth it.
Moving on to films, what was the first film you made, and how did that come about?
‘Karthik Shamalan’. That was the first film I made. It was shot fully with the Sony Handycam. I had a script and I wanted to try making it into movie to see if I can apply whatever I have learnt practically. We screened it at the auditorium in TAFE College. Almost 250 people came to watch it. I couldn’t believe the standing ovation we received! We put a box outside to collect money just to help us to subsidise our costs, and collected almost RM5000.
That was the end of the journey, the screening of the film. What about the journey itself, the production stage? What was the most difficult thing about the making of that first film?
Time. I was working at Melaka and used to travel to Seremban every weekend to shoot the movie.
I am very curious about this film: what is the story about?
It’s an action crime thriller. I can’t reveal much as the movie was well received and we have plans to reshoot the movie with a better screenplay and budget.
How did you get the idea to make the film? Was it inspired by your own experiences? I ask because…well, the film’s title is the same as your name.
By the time I decided to work seriously on my dream, I wanted people to first know me. I named the film after my name. Many saw it as unique. It has nothing to do with my life but the script is one of my favourites.
You also made a film called ‘SRK’ for the BMW Shorties competition in 2011.
Yes. Well, I had an idea of that story and I shot it to release it online. We just tried our luck with BMW Shorties and surprisingly it was nominated for Best Actress award!
How did this experience help with the subsequent film, ‘Muthal Naal Indru’?
Actually, the script for ‘Muthal Naal Indru’ was ready even before ‘SRK’. It’s just that we wanted to give our best for ‘Muthal Naal Indru’ and took our own sweet time.
What first planted the seed for this film?
It was a French short film by Alex Montoya. Actually, it was completely different from my film, but I got the creative spark from that film. I like the idea of showing what sex can lead to in life. Everyone knows sex can go wrong and people can get pregnant, but not many know that some sex stories can’t be shared with everyone. That’s the idea I wanted to make into a short film.
‘Muthal Naal Indru’ covered aspects of Malaysia many people are not that keen on exploring. What kind of research went into the making of this film?
I met many prostitutes to know how they speak and what they think about love. I still remember one of them asked me, “Will you marry me?” I couldn’t answer her question.
I also read that the role of the younger female was difficult to cast. In the end, you managed to cast Jaya Ganason in that role. Can you explain a bit more what happened there?
Many refused to do it because the character is a prostitute. They felt it would give them a bad image.
Not unlike ‘SRK’, your actress was nominated in the Best Actress category at the BMW Shorties in 2012, but this time she actually won. What did she bring to the role that made her your choice for it?
Bravery. She had the passion. She saw the character and felt it to live her life and feel the love. That courage is what won her the award.
In addition to that, the film was also given an Honourable Mention, and was nominated in a number of other categories. What kind of impact did this have on your career?
It changed my life. It changed everything about my life. It gave me hope, and opened a path for my dream.
I’m sure you’ve attended plenty of public and private screenings of this film. What has the audience reaction been like to your film?
They love it. They just fall in love with the character. They can feel her pain and the life she went through.
I ask because this film offers a unique viewpoint from an Indian perspective. We certainly don’t get as much of that in mainstream Malaysian cinema. What could be done to improve this situation?
We definitely want to make such films for the mainstream market, but looking at censorship issues and the return of investment, many refused to invest. One day, when I have enough money, I will do such films for the mainstream audience.
Going beyond that, are there any particular films or filmmaker you pay close attention to?
Shanjhey Kumar Perumal. He is a man I respect the most. I just love his works.
Final question: Shah Rukh Khan, the inspiration for the film ‘SRK’, received a datukship from our country. Which other filmmaker or performer would you give a datukship to, and why?
I’m not sure who can get it but I think all the veteran filmmakers and performers deserves special credits in the Malaysian cinema industry. They were brave enough to be an example, to choose their dream as their passion and succeed in it.
True that. Thanks very much, Karthik!
Featured image credit: Medical Media Training